Prius Personal Log  #741

April 18, 2016  -  April 21, 2016

Last Updated: Tues. 5/03/2016

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4-21-2016

Facing Reality.  It's not easy.  There's still some lingering resentment.  We are making progress.  Rather than rhetoric of the past being repeated, we can see some willingness to address certain once taboo topics: "That's the too little too slowly. With Toyota's fanbase, they shouldn't be timid."  I totally embraced that opportunity to stir interest and ask questions:  Those customers are the target market.  It's that "mainstream" term we've been tossing around for years.  The more we see, the more this looks like the tortoise & hare story.  Focusing on final outcome verses celebrating having raced to specific points was lesson learned the hard way.  In this case, reaching those who would otherwise be perfectly content just driving off the lot with the newest traditional is the win.  When you have buyers who think 35 MPG is enough and still haven't decided about climate change, you know they won't be willing to spend much on clean & efficient technology.  So, how do you appeal to that group of people?  The tradeoff of size, weight, and cost is a delicate balance.  Toyota will be delivering a system with more electric-only power & speed along with a modest range increase.  That should make it somewhat cost-competitive while not trading too much.  There's nothing providing any indication of what EV range they are willing to pay for.  More doesn't necessarily make it better.  That only way to find out is to actually try.  Customers will vote with their purchases.

4-21-2016

Moving On.  The very last of the gen-1 holdouts has accepted fate.  There is now a tepid spirit of cooperation.  It's awkward laying down arms with someone who fought so intensely against you, celebrating victorious battles but ultimately losing the war.  We're trying to meet in the middle.  One individual has protested the effort.  That's it!  What a relief.  It's over.  Now, the constructive discussions can begin.  His question to me today was: "Toyota should put it on the Camry & Rav4.  Call it the Camry Prime and Rav 4 Prime.  Or make a unique plug-in car for the mid-size sedan and CUV."  My thoughts on the topic were:  That's the water Toyota will be testing soon.  How far from other offerings could or should the plug option be?  With Prime, we'll be find out if the breaking the status quo, with respect to design, is what some will be attracted to.  The bucket seats in back and the bubbled rear windshield is new territory to explore.. possibly new opportunity.  How will customers shopping the showroom floor react?  We all remember seeing vehicles of the future featuring unique design like that. Heck, anyone have any memory of the concept shown back in the 80's at Epcot center?  The difference now is you can actually buy it, right there at that moment.  Will seeing it, combined with a test-drive, compel them to drive away with a Prime?  Having a battery small enough to easily work in any garage offering a 120-volt outlet will help to overcome complexity fear.  It also eliminate equipment cost concern.  Heck, even 2 of them staggered with a timer could both recharge overnight from the same line.  It's a matter of testing the waters before going all out.  With such a fickle market and most of the early adopters already spoken for, we need to find out what the next wave of consumers will actually buy.

4-21-2016

Buy Back.  It looks like TDI owner here with "clean diesel" vehicles will be getting the opportunity to sell it back to the automaker.  The proposed price will be the book value as of right before the scandal was uncovered, along with an additional $5,000.  That's the first sensible thing to come out of this mess.  Retrofitting an existing vehicle is a difficult & expensive process.  It presented a major challenge of proving the fix actually worked.  And the owner would have to deal with decreased engine performance, reduced efficiency, and the inconvenience of reduced truck space.  Of course, not everyone is happy with the proposal: "This is an EPA problem, not a VW problem. Regulation are destroying the diesel industry."  That's called denial.  There was no way traditional diesel could possibly compete with plug-in hybrids.  The efficiency difference is massive.  Had this cheat not happened, diesel would have already begun to wide down production for passenger vehicles.  Instead, VW was dishonest and got caught... revealing other automakers had attempted to circumvent emission regulations too.  What a interesting way to be destroyed.  Who would have ever dreamed they'd do it to themselves?  Our air cannot handle pollution like that.  Over in Europe, the situation is much worse.  Taking action to slow the damage is necessary.  Regulatory entities given the task of preventing air-quality from getting worse are not the problem.

4-21-2016

More Plugs.  Lack of personal patience.  Lack of business foresight.  Lack of consumer understanding.  We get this as a result: "Why is Toyota not putting more plugs on their top selling hybrids?"  I turned it around with this:  The better question is: WHICH HYBRIDS SHOULD PLUGS BE OFFERED ON?   All the automakers have the issue of what to consider.  They face the same challenges overcoming their own legacy constraints.  Look at the explosive popularity of the small SUV lately.  Some have been suggesting for years to GM that Equinox should get the Voltec treatment.  We're still waiting & wondering.  Initial success of the new RAV4 hybrid seems to put it on the short list for which vehicle Toyota should consider for the Prime treatment.

4-21-2016

Competition.  New questions about the change we're witnessing are great.  I especially liked this one: "I wonder what Toyota thinks about Tesla’s 400,000+ deposits for Model 3 reservations?  Does Toyota not consider Tesla an automaker?"  It's interesting how my same response as in the past now gets a very different reception.  That gave this post lots of anticipation & wonder about how it could be replied:  The competition is traditional vehicles, not automakers pursuing plug-in options.  That fundamental misunderstanding of approach is a major impairment to progress.  The goal now (this stage is quite different than with gen-1 offerings) is to get interest up high enough to sustain profitable high-volume sales once the tax-credits expire.  That means each automaker using the technology at their disposal to help achieve that paradigm shift in the market.  In others, Toyota welcomes the effort.

4-21-2016

Much Ado.  Lack of background is a common problem.  We certainly saw that play out with Volt.  There was fierce pushback whenever Two-Mode was mentioned.  Enthusiasts believed that was a totally unrelated project and in no way could share any of the same challenges.  Thinking mistakes couldn't be repeated is a difficult lesson to learn.  Once you do though, it leaves you apprehensive.  Could the same assumptions leading to poor choices happen again?  It is almost incomprehensible at times to determine what's important and what isn't.  We have seen real problems have real consequences.  We have also seen non-issues stir up a massive amount of controversy.  How do you determine which is what?  There's a group of us attempting that with the 5th seat topic.  My post today on that was a reminder of the past:  Most here have no clue how major of a "much ado about nothing" situation there was for the Classic Prius (2001-2003) with the shifter.  OMG!  People went nuts over the fact that you had to pull it toward you rather than downward.  The lash out was incredible.  Yet, almost no one remembers that now.

4-21-2016 Red Herrings.  They come up a lot in discussions.  It's a great way to derail threads online.  Both trolls & defenders thrive on the distractive damage they cause to constructive posting.  That's unfortunate.  Worse is that you cannot ignore them.  The only effective way of dealing with them is to reduce their effectiveness.  Real-World data does a great job of that.  Unfortunately, very little is available for gen-2 offerings yet.  So, we're stuck trying to do it with just design detail.  That helps, but squashing the attempts to undermine that way isn't easy.  Oh well.  You keep trying anyway.  I did:  With HFC (hydrogen fuel-cells) being a long-term project, very different scope and very different audience, it's really a red-herring... especially since they won't be mutually exclusive to EV anyway.  Look at the other automakers also investing in them.  Why not similar scrutiny?  For that matter, shouldn't there be the same expectations for hybrids & plug-ins?  Toyota's current work to refine battery chemistry, motor efficiency, control software, and cabin-comfort technology will be beneficial to any plug-in vehicle.  Meanwhile, production of the cells for the packs will continue to be optimized.  It's easy to get the impression of tepid.  But taking that detail and the bigger picture into consider, it looks more like preparation for high-volume profitable sales not dependent upon any incentives.
4-20-2016

That's it.  There are some who get so hung up on blame & shame that they don't see the big picture.  For example: "So it's GM spin being the GM fault, not anything to do with the Volt itself?"  That was actually an interesting question.  It shows we're moving beyond problems of the past, finally addressing what's important instead.  Anywho, I hope I did a good job of explaining the situation with:  Setting of false expectations has consequences.  GM created challenges for itself that could have been avoided.  It's not rocket science.  It's simply business.  Understanding how accounting, economics, and marketing interact isn't easy, but it is necessary.  Fortunately, you do sometimes get lucky and notice a pattern.  It this case, the expectations played a major role.  That put Volt in an awkward position right out the gate.  Not everything that had been anticipated was actually what they got.  Why does GM set expectations that could present major problems later if the challenge to deliver becomes too great?  Notice how certain announcements stand out?  There's almost no detail, yet lots of praise is given anyway for somehow overcoming a problem no other automaker could.  That spotlight is the first sign the risk may be too much.  Attempting to apply the same logic to Prime, what do we see?  The highest requested upgrade was more EV power.  Next was more EV range.  Since neither had any set target, reaching the goal was much easier.  In other words, it was just like any other generational change.  People simply expect the successor to be improved.  That's it.

4-19-2016

Childhood Stories.  I enjoyed posting this, on the big Prius forum:  They are supposed to teach us about life.  Some don't learn the lesson though.  I think we are watching "the tortoise and the hare" story play out in the automotive world.  GM has exhibited much of that same behavior about getting to market sooner and racing well ahead.  Toyota has been taking its time, at a pace so slow it gets mocked every step of the way... yet always paying attention and very carefully planning ahead before taking any action.  Years later, we likely will see that Toyota has been quietly preparing to win.  After all, the work to refine battery chemistry, motor efficiency, control software, and cabin-comfort technology will be beneficial to any plug-in vehicle.  Meanwhile, production of the cells for the packs would have continued to get optimized.  So, when the time comes, we very well could see that GM already ran out of tax-credits and Toyota is taking advantage of the full amount still available to them and is very well positioned to deliver high-volume during the phase-out stage.

4-18-2016

1.5 Years Later.  There's a thread on the big Prius forum that was started 2 years ago.  It was about how the next Volt would "leap frog the competition".  As you could imagine, I was all over that.  Much has happened since then.  Volt has fallen by the wayside in favor of Bolt.  In fact, the entire topic of "range anxiety" has completely fallen apart.  The odd position Volt occupies isn't being taken by any other mainstream automaker.    Either you have an augmented hybrid, offering a larger battery and a plug, or you go full electric.  There's also the BMW approach, but the much larger pack and much smaller engine makes it a full EV with just an emergency backup.  Volt's stance of being in-between... with both EV range too low and HV efficiency too low... we're all wondering what future it holds.  My guess it will remain a niche, that a Malibu plug-in will take over its role & purpose instead.  Anywho, this is what the originator of that thread 1.5 years ago had to say now: "Tesla has had great sales because of their EV capacity and fast charging ability, in spite of the high price of the Model S and X.  So, sometimes higher capacity does change the market.  I think the Volt, with 2.5x the range of other plug-in hybrids, will fill a role of transitioning drivers to BEVs.  GM could easily sell a somewhat cheaper me-too 20-something plug-in hybrid if they want to.  That may be a saturated market at this point."  It was that saturation mention that caught me.  That's clear evidence of change.  The expectation had been gen-2 Volt would take the market by storm.  We're not seeing that.  In fact, attention has almost entirely shifted over to Bolt instead.  I added to the discussion:  Tesla has done an outstanding job with S and X.  Stage 1 = mission accomplished.  Tesla has embarked upon the challenge of delivering an affordable choice now.  Stage 2 = off to a great start.  GM attempted to deliver an affordable choice, able to "leap frog the competition" by achieving a mainstream sales rate by the end of the 2nd year.  Remember, GM had even announced the ability to ramp production all the up to 120,000 if demand called for it within the 3rd year?  That just plain didn't happen.  Fine.  Whatever.  We move on to gen-2 instead.  After all, we were told to be patient.  This next Volt would surpass the popularity of the gen-2 Prius.  So, we waited.  The time has arrived.  It is available.  Sincerely, what should we expect now?  I truly don't understand how the market could be saturated if the point was to use this technology to phase out the production of traditional vehicles.  True, GM makes you wonder if all will be invested in Bolt now to compete directly with Tesla, in the process leaving Volt as a highly regarded niche... kind of like the plug-in version of a Camaro.  No one has been willing to address that either.  It gives the impression of that being an undesired outcome.  But the reality is, only so many tax-credits are available and time to react is limited.  GM could regard EV as the only reasonable next step.  They tried Volt.  It obviously works.  But that approach didn't result in mainstream sales.  Since that is what Toyota also seeks, it is reasonable to continue to ask what was learned from Volt.  Why the thought that there could be a saturated market?  Prime will be offering less EV range, but the EV power will be increased considerably.  The smaller battery-pack keeps costs down, while still covering the needs of a number of potential buyers.  It also establishes a base to build up.  It doesn't sacrifice HV efficiency either.

4-18-2016

Wrap Up, change.  Phew!  It actually worked.  I was delighted this morning to read this: "So for once you have nothing to say (can we keep it this way?).  And I guess Toyota is SOL.  I don't think they are serious about plug-ins anyway as they will let everyone else do all the heavy lifting."  That response from the weekend craziness was quite a relief.  I had my doubts it would work.  Accomplishing such an odd goal take a lot of patience and reading between the lines.  I wanted to see change... some indication of progress, even if it's only slight.  Going from an absolute of never, to "I don't think" is progress.  As always, it needs to be pointed out that reaches the masses is leadership.  That's "light lifting", a lot of it.  The product offering the most of something is what gets the attention.  Offering a lot of something smaller is what goes unnoticed, hence not getting credit, despite being an essential contributor to change.  Anywho, this is how I replied:  It was obvious you wouldn't bother actually answering that question from the past.  I was surprised you even brought it up though.  It was great confirmation that you have indeed heard the message, but have repeatedly chosen to ignore it.  Going after Toyota instead for the same thing was an interesting move... since it has revealed something new.  You had been saying Toyota gave up on the idea of supporting anything with a plug.  That's why you were so harsh about all of the regular hybrids they offer.  But now that GM is about to rollout Malibu hybrid and Toyota has revealed Prime, you changed.  That's the "middle ground" I've been striving for.  It worked!  You took that step.  True, it was masked with quite a bit of attitude, but that still counts.  I'm more than happy to give credit where it is due.  So... thank you.  It may have been a painful journey, but the goal of letting go of that absolute has been achieved.  As for the "heavy lifting", that's worthy of giving praise upon GM pulling it off.  The measure of success with Bolt will be volume, since there's nothing to prove anymore.  Volt already took care of the technology part.  It's all about reaching the next wave of customers now.

 

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